There’s a Teen Mental Health Crisis—Here’s How to Help Your Child

During the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about the mental health crisis among teens. The closings and isolation of COVID-19 may be over, but adolescents as a whole are still in crisis, according to mental health experts.

More than 4 in 10 high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2021, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 1 in 5 seriously considered suicide.

If you’re a parent of a child who is struggling, you might be wondering how you can help.

UNC Health psychologist Samantha Pflum, PhD, offers some insight and advice.

1. Recognize that teens have important concerns.

Just as adults worry about relationships, finances, health and the state of the world, teens do, too.

“Being younger doesn’t mean that they aren’t able to understand what’s going on or to reflect on how that makes them feel,” Dr. Pflum says.

It’s important to validate how your child is feeling.

“Say ‘tell me more about how you’re feeling’ rather than ‘everyone has a hard time as a teenager’ or ‘you’ll get over it,’” Dr. Pflum says. “Lend an ear and say, ‘I’m here for you.’ Being open to listening is important.”

2. Talk to them about their mental health.

If you notice that your child is having a hard time, talk to him or her about it—and listen without judgment.

If you’re concerned your teen may harm themself or others, don’t avoid the subject.

“Do not be afraid to ask, ‘Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself? Are you having thoughts of ending your life?’” Dr. Pflum says. “Parents worry that asking about suicide is going to generate or condone this idea, which is not true. It’s often a signal that you’re a safe person to talk to.”

3. Get help.

If your child’s behavior is unsafe or if your child talks about wanting to harm himself or herself or someone else, seek help immediately. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department. You can also call or text 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which is staffed 24 hours a day, every day.

If you think your child may be depressed, anxious or dealing with another mental health problem, talk to your child’s pediatrician. Your teen also may benefit from psychotherapy (talk therapy), which can take place in person or virtually.

If you’re worried that a teenager you love is suicidal, get help immediately by calling or texting 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.